By ALAN J. WAX
A recent visit to South Florida provided an opportunity for two days of boozy adventures, visiting some old haunts and a couple of newer breweries. I was delighted by several beers and, surprisingly, disappointed by others, especially the offerings at one of the region’s leading beer makers.
BANGIN’ BANJO BREWING, POMPANO BEACH
Among the delights I found were the handful of brews sampled at Bangin’ Banjo Brewery, which is located in an industrial park not far from the highly popular Festival Flea Market in Pompano Beach. Bangin’ Banjo is a 3-barrel brewing operation opened in mid-2014 by a pair of homebrewing friends. Nothing fancy here. The tasting room, rustic in tones of green and varnished pine, puts the focus on the beer. And they were quite satisfactory. High on my list were Swiftness Potion Belgian Triple, a deep-golden brew with an intense Belgian yeast character, banana notes and a dry finish; OJ Session IPA, an eminently drinkable crisp, light golden brew with a citrus nose with notes of sweet malt and piney hops; Annie’s Raspberry Cream Ale, a light, cloudy brew redolent of the red berries; Bangarang English Brown Ale, a copper-hued, somewhat grainy brew with notes of chocolate and nuts; and Overcast Shadow, a chewy, winey, deep-brown Russian imperial stout with a mocha head and notes of chocolate and licorice.
26th DEGREE BREWING, POMPANO BEACH
26th Degree Brewing Co., launched in September 2015 by a group of self-taught homebrewing buddies, occupies a former supermarket on a busy main strip in Pompano Beach that’s close to the Atlantic Boulevard bridge that spans the Intracoastal Waterway. The brewery’s name is derived from the city’s latitude. It’s brewing system, behind the large taproom, turns out 30 barrels at a time. It was easy to feel lost in the sprawling 4,500-square-foot, industrial-chic taproom on an early Sunday afternoon. The beers, served way-too-cold, were largely uninspiring. Erick the Great, an opaque black Russian imperial stout made with Belgian yeast, however, stood out with it a rich chocolate velvety character, estery Belgian notes and a dry finish.
FUNKY BUDDHA BREWERY, OAKLAND PARK
After several visits here in recent months, I’ve learned it’s best to stick to the tried-and-true year-round brews and avoid the overly sweet, flavored beers no matter how tempting it may be to give some of these brews with outlandish flavor additions that include strawberry extract, vanilla, chocolate nibs and more (Last Snow is an exception). The tasting room and outdoor drinking areas always seem to be filled. During my most recent visit, a pug dog-rescue group was holding a fundraiser and a bunch of people masquerading as Star Wars characters abounded. Last Snow, unfortunately was a week away from being released when I visited. One standout among the specials was the Veruca Snozzberry Gose, a Berliner Weise brewed with kettle salt and coriander with a name that references the spoiled bratty girl in “Willy Wonka.” A refreshing brew, it’s a bright orange yellow and its taste suggests orange juice with salt. Avoid Hit “Em with Hein, a creamy sweet brew with a fake strawberry flavor reminiscent of the taffy I ate as a kid; What is That Velvet, a flavor-muddled copper brew and Neapolitan Porter, a sweet brown brew with vanilla notes rising above the other muddled flavors; and, I’m So Excited, I’m So Scared, which tasted of sweet roasted grain and little else.
My third visit to this out-of-the-way, but pub-style tasting room, was less inspiring than earlier visits, though Jess, who worked the behind the bar, was a helpful guide. Nuance, a prototypical Saison, was a top quaff, and Monk Be Mine, a cherry chocolate quad brewed for Valentine’s Day, wasn’t far behind with a full-bodied velvety character and the suggestion of chocolate-covered cherries.
Other offerings I tried were less successful, including 1801, a brew redolent of coffee and little more, and Start Sour, a fruity brew with only the barest suggestion of tartness.
SALTWATER BREWERY, DELRAY BEACH
I first visited here on the eve of its opening three years ago. Head brewers have come—and gone, but the basic beers remain the same. Since then, they’ve turned out more than 300 different brews, many twists on the core roster. Alas, an old favorite, Don’t Get Confused, a Belgian tripel was not available. On this visit, I particularly enjoyed Mayday, a deep-brown, malty, drinkable American porter. Monk’s Vacation was an interesting quaff reminiscent of a sweet spice cake, albeit a liquid one, with dominant Belgian yeast and clove flavors.
DEVOUR BREWING, BOYNTON BEACH
We ran into Jess, who served us at Barrel of Monks a day earlier, behind the bar here. She knows her way around beers. Named for an indie rock song, the brewery was opened in mid-2015 by Chip Breighner, who worked at a home beer supply store. He brews on a 1-barrel system so that qualifies Devour as a nano. Our evening visit was interrupted by a power outage, forcing us to drink at one of the tables set up in the parking lot that serves the industrial strip that is the brewery’s home. I enjoyed the SoBo Wit, cloudy yellow, lively and a definite orange character, but was unmoved by most of the others brews sampled.
My second visit since its opening in the spring of 2016. Owner Matt Cox, winner of GABF gold medal in 2002 when he worked at Big Bear Brewing in Coral Springs, brews on a 20-barrel DME systems, viewable through the wall of the comfy brick-walled taproom. Das Pilsner, a bright golden, crisp brew with notes of fresh hay, was an enjoyable quaff. Also quite tasty, Blood Orange Wit with its reddish hue, citric-cardamom nose and the notes of sweet fruit and spices that played off against one another.